Sniffing out illegal tobacco

Oxfordshire County Council is launching a series of events to tackle sellers of illegal tobacco. Trading Standards Officers and sniffer dogs will take to the streets to ask for the public’s help and crack down on this criminal activity.

The council also aims to educate the public about how to spot illegal tobacco: what the dangers are, and how to report sales. The Illegal Tobacco Roadshow will start in Banbury and go around the county.

Meet sniffer dogs Scamp, Phoebe and Yoyo. They are all ex-rescue dogs and have found millions of pounds-worth of illegal cigarettes and hand-rolling tobacco in locations across the UK. The talented mutts are needed as stashes are often hidden behind fake walls or in unusual locations secured by electro-magnets and operated by remote control devices.

Illegal tobacco makes it easier for children to start smoking, as it is sold at cheap prices, and it also makes communities more attractive to criminals, who may have links to organised crime groups. Reports suggest that illegal tobacco is an important part of Organised Criminal Groups’ portfolios. Far from being a victimless crime, this illicit trade is connected to drug trafficking, money laundering, firearms and other crimes that threaten communities and endanger lives.

Pocket money prices pose threat to children and communities

Judith Heathcoat, Deputy Leader of Oxfordshire County Council said: “All tobacco is harmful, but illegal tobacco poses an additional threat to our children and communities, because it is sold at pocket money prices by criminals who are not interested in asking for proof of age. There is a lot of work being done across the county to tackle illegal tobacco but we need the public support to help us. Please tell us about where illegal tobacco is being sold, either in person at our mobile illegal tobacco unit, go online or via our hotline. “

Jodi Kerman Operations Manager, Trading Standards at Oxfordshire County Council added: “This is one of our top priorities for action, not only because smoking remains one of the UK’s biggest causes of premature death but we also know that the availability of cheap, illegal tobacco helps recruit the next generation of smokers and undermines our initiatives to help adults quit smoking.”

In the South East, illegal tobacco had a street value of £37 million and equivalent retail value of approximately £76 million in 2010. We believe that this share has now increased substantially.

The sale of illegal tobacco is a criminal offence. Anyone wishing to report the selling of illegal tobacco can do so anonymously online to Trading Standards at www.stop-illegal-tobacco.co.uk or call the Illegal Tobacco Hotline on 0300 999 6 999. For more information check:


The first event will take place In Banbury: Monday 23rd October 10am to 3.30pm Outside Castle Quay Shopping Centre (between M&S and Debenhams)